Leveraging Trade for the Common Good at Modular Workshop
This is by no means a new idea. At the core of our overall work/life balance is the need to feel like we are having an impact or that the work we do has meaning. In general, what contributes to that work/life balance varies individually with the majority of focus in activities relevant to recreation, altruism, personal development, family, and other similar pursuits. For many, volunteerism fulfills several of these needs. We do it for personal development, for social interaction and validation, for an altruistic need to feel like we are making a positive impact and various other considerations addressed by our efforts.
In the United States, less than one in every four people spend their time volunteering with the 2015 rate being 24.9%. Within this subset, the average hours per year is 54, or just over an hour a week on the national average, with the 65+ crowd doing the most to elevate that average. Within these numbers, specific volunteer initiatives carve that percentage even lower with humanitarian efforts having majority support, followed by environmental and animal-welfare issues among others. These numbers are also declining, most significantly among the under 35 year old crowd and their yearly average of 36 hours.
In many studies, the idea that well-formed initiatives or strong volunteer programs are important factors in keeping volunteers engaged, and having a poorly developed program can quickly alienate a volunteer. While established 501(c)3’s and non-profits often have developed programs that work for them, there is still often a perceived deficit in the ability for a volunteer to engage in a way they feel contributes the highest value. As a study published by the National Institute of Health referenced, primary motivators of satisfaction comes from “organizational support, such as performance feedback and clear goals and objectives; participation efficacy, or the use of one’s own skills and abilities to make a difference; a sense of empowerment and group integration, or the forming of bonds with other volunteers and paid staff.”
One of the challenges in fulfilling this expectation is the same issue we find in business; resource scale, motivation, development feedback, and encouragement among some examples. While it is unfair to generalize nonprofits considering many have fantastic programs to provide these things, structural capability is not endemic nor even in the majority. Established non-profits such as Red Cross can maintain time-tested and innovative volunteer programs, but what about the tens of thousands of small non-profits relying solely on volunteers to support their programs? Many individuals who attempt volunteerism at these small organizations move from volunteer support to financial support in that it often seems to feel like it has more of an impact than providing assistance and not feeling truly appreciated for taking the time out of their day to support the group.
Smaller organizations provide the best opportunity for professional services volunteerism or assistance in creating programs and structures to provide efficiencies across a range of necessity. In my recent experience, the lack of competitive platforms and services among small non-profits is the primary reason they fail to provide these feedback motivators and curate long-term support. They often suffer from insufficient technology, project management, program support, digital platforms, etc. and like any business that is under-funded or under-staffed, this results in a failure of the operation to achieve mission goals they aspire to address. This is a broad generalization considering that 64% of non-profits that received their tax-exempt status in 2005 are still active in 2015, a success rate that dwarfs the “nine out of ten businesses will fail” adage we hear for the corporate startup counterparts.
To address this challenge, we need to support coordinating professional services as volunteerism to help development programs that support key elements of scale and resource for 501(c)3’s. An increase in consulting-based volunteerism is mutually beneficial as it helps develop the foundation of smaller non-profits so that they can support scalability in programs that enhance their ability to complete their missions. Digital, marketing, IT, accounting, legal services, contracting, maintenance, content creation and etc. are the new foundations of our service-based economy, and it provides significant value to translate these services in a compelling way to organizations looking to help their community, world, fellow humans, animals and etc.
There are many organizations and groups taking this approach in supporting various non-profits. Various efforts of crowdsourcing has innovated new opportunities in professional services and there are many groups of people out there looking to find ways to answer these problems for various non-profits.
In this article, I wanted to present our particular approach to addressing this issue within a specific niche, in our case – supporting no-kill dog rescues and shelters. There are many different ways to approach this and we do not yet know if this one will work, but we know that what we have accomplished already in our infancy has had an impact. Our approach has been forged over the last decade as my wife and I have provided fundraising, public relations, and digital support for non-profits, most of it free of charge. In our experiences, the ability to develop a website, a fundraising idea, or content design has made a big impact on the various non-profits we have worked with. While we run various digital programs for nonprofits at my day job as digital director for Vladimir Jones, I found myself doing digital on my off time to stay motivated and feel like my trade was having an impact. I could feel good about having to manage digital programs because I was using that experience to help groups in need without charge, and formed the National Dog Rescue Network to help organize similar opportunities for others.
The model for this latest effort is based on content and consulting. We are attempting to organize professional services for dog rescues, and so far, all we have encountered acknowledge that there is a desperate need for it. To successfully provide support, it has to come with a plan and defined project. In our particular approach, the two efforts of consulting then production(content) are inseparable as there is a need to define programs and identify need before content such as websites, fundraising, volunteer programs, and other efforts occur.
Like any project, efforts to support nonprofits need to come with a project plan, requirements, and solutions clearly identified so that multiple people without a clear hierarchical structure can collaborate efficiently towards a common goal. As such, we term our volunteer product as ‘professional service volunteerism’ as our efforts begin at the program level and identify a strategy before implementing a tactical response. Though a program requires management, strategy, production, and the ability to communicate a multi-disciplinary collaboration back to the client, a relatively small team can have a big impact and often revolutionize entire organizational platforms. They can also identify and support volunteers specific to their project needs by presenting these strategies and establishing a resource plan against them. The key is a systemic approach, and essentially crowdsourcing volunteerism in a very targeted and “crowd-sourced” way.
Once foundations of the program are established, then the content issue comes into play as a significant part of a rescues efforts rely on awareness, engagement, and communicating opportunity to new donors and volunteers to support their mission . Websites, videos, ads, copywriting, digital support, and etc. present the majority of visibility and awareness for these groups, and many opportunities go unrealized due to an inability to develop awareness for a mission online through content that capitalizes on all opportunities. Many times an organization will opt not to capitalize on volunteers creating content for them, as it is dangerous without a program plan that defines the message model, content guidelines, and crisis-response plan to support the content production efforts and provide contingency.
In the last decades, we’ve been able to provide these efforts with a small handful of motivated people. If we focus our attention on collecting a pool of motivated people able to provide professional services to rescues, any impact we’ve had so far will be highly amplified, and with just 10 people we could impact many rescues per year. This is a model that if replicated by a high volume of other small groups respective to their preferred philanthropic pursuit, would revolutionize volunteerism in a service-based economy.
I’m hoping that with the shift towards this service-based economy in the past few decades, that the value of our services and the impact they could have in small, localized groups, is realized and that many more start to carve out their own niche and approach to volunteerism. It’s a model where everyone wins.
For more information about the National Dog Rescue Network, visit our website, like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter. Every bit of awareness helps. And if you run or help work at a no-kill dog rescue, please join our LinkedIn group so we can coordinate on how to get some awareness and donations to the dogs!